The European Southern Observatory (ESO)
has completed the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy
(ATLASGAL), releasing the stunning new imagery to mark the occasion. The survey covers the full area of the Galactic Plane as
seen from the southern hemisphere, revealing it in submillimeter
wavelengths for the first time ever.
The ATLASGAL data was collected by the Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment telescope (APEX), located 5,100 m (16,700 ft) above sea level on Chile's Chajnantor Plateau. The effort was designed to harness the APEX telescope's ability to provide a clear and detailed view of the distribution of dense gases just a few tens of degrees above absolute zero, located along the plane of the galaxy.
The project made use of the telescope's Large Bolometer Camera (LABOCA), which measures incoming radiation by looking at minute changes in temperature. It's able to detect emmisions from the thick bands of dust that obscure the light from distant stars.
The imagery released today shows the APEX data in red, with the background blue image taken at shorter wavelengths by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The new information isn't just visually stunning, but will also help scientists improve our knowledge of the Milky Way, combining the data with that from the European Space Agency's (ESA) Planck satellite to learn more about the inner Galaxy's dense gases.
"ATLASGAL has allowed us to have a new and transformational look at the dense interstellar medium of our galaxy, the Milky Way," said the ESO's Leonardo Testi. "The new release of the full survey opens up the possibility to mine this marvellous dataset for new discoveries."
Speaking of spectacular images of our home galaxy, check out this 20 gigapixel panorama released in 2014, using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.